Steven Yeun climbs the corporate ladder, one body at a time, in Mayhem

Director Joe Lynch delivers an office thunderdome full of gory, giddy delights

click to enlarge Steven Yeun, left, and Samara Weaving get their hands extra dirty fighting corporate corruption. - RLJE Films
RLJE Films
Steven Yeun, left, and Samara Weaving get their hands extra dirty fighting corporate corruption.

Seventeen years ago, Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku unleashed his visceral, unapologetic masterpiece, Battle Royale, at the height of the J-horror craze as American audiences were finally waking up to the fact that some of the best genre cinema at that time was made overseas.

Battle Royale drew raves and its fair share of controversy for depicting a winner-takes-all fight to the death contest between a group of ninth-grade students who were dropped on an island and forced to kill each other as part of a subversive government experiment.

In the nearly 20 years since, there have been a handful of notable efforts by other directors to replicate Fukasaku’s achievement, including several that utilized a workplace setting for the carnage, such as 2010’s quirky but underdeveloped Operation: Endgame and 2016’s excellent, James Gunn-penned The Belko Experiment.

Almost all of them, however, minus The Hunger Games adaptations (which technically don’t count since they were a mostly bloodless franchise aimed at younger viewers), failed to appropriately touch on the socio-political subtext that made Battle Royale so shocking.

Until now, that is.

Mayhem perfectly encapsulates what it means to be young and ambitious in our current political climate where mass violence is the norm and morality has been jettisoned in favor of greed and the kind of absolute power that makes normal people feel invincible and impervious to consequences or repercussions.

Mayhem envisions an underground epidemic sparked by a viral contagion where office workers in various countries act out on their most basic, primal instincts, whether engaging in bacchanalian sexual orgies or simply killing a colleague to see how it feels.

Enter Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), a rising young attorney at a large corporate law firm, who’s about to have the most batshit crazy day of his life.

Yeun is perfectly cast, and not just because he was beloved as Glenn Rhee for six years on The Walking Dead. Yeun’s a good actor who deserves a high-profile leading role like this. Hopefully, it’s the first of many headlining turns to come.

Derek is aware of the virus. As an attorney, he also knows that the courts have refused to prosecute anyone afflicted by the virus, which typically lasts about eight hours, for any crimes they committed while infected.

He’s also slowly waking up to the realization that he’s sold his soul for a corner office, a personal assistant he can berate and a complete loss of all empathy for people being dicked over by his firm in order to protect high-value clients.

As the film starts, he learns that he’s been double-crossed by a conniving senior attorney named The Siren (Caroline Chikezie), who uses a costly mistake to convince head partner The Boss (Steven Brand) to fire Derek.

Before Derek can plead his case to the firm’s board of directors, he meets Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving — who is kicking serious butt lately with a slew of great performances. Seriously, if you haven’t seen The Babysitter on Netflix, go check it out).

Melanie’s house is in foreclosure due to a shady predatory loan, and only Derek’s firm can help right this serious wrong. But her meeting with Derek ends with security being called. It’s a meet-not-cute set-up that will pay dividends as the two initial adversaries join forces once the virus infects them, and the law firm is quarantined.

click to enlarge Mayhem is genre filmmaking at its bloody best. - RLJE Films
RLJE Films
Mayhem is genre filmmaking at its bloody best.

Mayhem kicks into high-gear once the virus spreads. Some employees fight the urge to act with reckless abandon. They are the ones to get killed first. Derek and Melanie, however, find higher purpose through their infection, and they begin systematically working their way up to the highest floors of the firm to demand retribution: Melanie for her house; Derek for his job.

There’s no shortage of blood and gore as each floor of the high-rise firm becomes a brazen display of carnality and depravity.

But Mayhem is at its best in its more quiet moments when Derek reflects on what he’s had to sacrifice for the ideal life that people his age are conditioned to strive for.

Mayhem also nails some big, big laughs with its pitch-black humor and acid-tongued observations.

At one point, when Derek gives in to the rage manifested by the virus, and savagely bludgeons one of The Boss’s evil henchmen, Melanie looks on with twisted glee.

“Christ, man,” she says, her face caked in blood from her own altercation, “did he fuck your girl too?”

Director Joe Lynch broke big in 2007 with Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, then got royally screwed over by his producers on his hotly-anticipated follow-up, Knights of Badassdom. He later proved he had the chops to handle lots of action with Everly, the best kick-ass femme fatale flick that Luc Besson wished he had made.

But Mayhem is, hands down, his best work to date.

It’s also the feature-film debut of screenwriter Matias Caruso, and it bodes very well for his future in genre cinema.

If you’ve ever imagined what Office Space might have looked like as a horror movie, Mayhem is a film that demands your attention.  


About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...
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